Blazin' Saddles

Dan Martin’s crash nothing compared to the fall of Team Sky

Blazin' Saddles

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Poor Dan Martin, the defending Doyenne champion, who fell out of a metaphorical tree on the final bend of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

But at least he rode a competitive race - unlike Team Sky since the start of the season. Our blogger Blazin' Saddles wraps up the classics season with a special (albeit mild) investigation...

Pen mightier than the sword in felling Martin

Did he have a mechanical issue? Perhaps he slid on white paint on the road? Or could he have simply lost balance in the heat of the moment?

Martin's dramatic crash in the finale of Sunday's monument left everyone baffled. Fresh after his commentating duties, Sean Kelly told Blazin' Saddles that he felt his countryman had clipped the tarmac with his left pedal while taking the final bend too tightly - a mishap no proud professional would admit to.

Sure enough, Martin - who did admit he "pretty much had tears in my eyes before I hit the floor" - refuted claims that he had clipped a pedal by not even considering it as an explanation for his catastrophe.

"It's one thing if you make a mistake or know what you've done," said the Irishman. "But I just fell out of a tree, basically. You look at the road, I think there's a batch of oil or something."

Funnily enough, someone else actually did look at the road - and what they saw wasn't oily.

In reply to Martin's succinct post-race tweet of "I think the phrase rhymes with 'Clucking Bell'" some helpful fellow called @Gazza_melv (who has but 14 followers on Twitter) replied: "Dan - check out my picture of what was on the road where you crashed."

The attached picture showed a rogue white pen lying vacantly on the grey surface of the road. It was taken by a spectator soon after the crash. Could a pen have really been the cause of Martin's mishap?

Oblivious to this nugget of information in the direct aftermath, a distraught Martin continued his breakdown of events to reporters. "It's hard - there's not really words," he said. "To race seven hours like that and just for it to happen on the last corner? Yeah, it's poetry."

Seeing that the obvious "rhyme nor reason" quips have already been made by far higher brow echelons of the cycling media, Saddles will simply provide this Haiku:

No panda in sight

Down went the wee Irishman

On the final bend

Luckily for Martin, he'll have the chance to make swift amends in the upcoming Biro - sorry, Giro - d'Italia.

Just what are they smoking at Team Sky?

Sir Dave Brailsford's careworn squad seemed to treat the centenary edition of the world's oldest one-day race with the kind of respect that they would an unwanted post-Tour criterium.

Just one rider - rookie Australian Nathan Earle - completed the race while both Chris Froome and Peter Kennaugh didn't even take to the start, meaning the British team started with only six men for the second time in a week following the recent Giro del Trentino shambles.

Before Earle rode to 70th place in Liege, Spaniard David Lopez was forced out following a crash while Richie Porte gave up because of the lingering illness that derailed the start of his season.

Given the kind of form the team is showing, it wouldn't be a surprise if Andy Schleck arrived in the close season in a bid to boost their lamentable finishing ratio.

Two years ago, Bradley Wiggins and Porte had already won stage races at this point of the season, with Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson-Hagen notching numerous wins.

Last year, Froome took over from Wiggins and, with Porte, continued the trend of Sky winning week-long stage races, while Sergio Henao and Geraint Thomas had taken stage wins.

This year, besides winning the Tour of Oman, Froome has been largely absent, while the team's only success in the classics has come from Ian Stannard, who is now one of half a dozen riders out injured.

Despite enrolling for pretty much every race between them at the start of the season, Wiggins and Froome have only taken part in a handful, the 2012 Tour champion admittedly impressing over the cobbles of Roubaix.

From their initial 29-man squad, two are currently in some kind of biological passport quagmire, one is supporting his cousin back in Colombia, another has retired from professional cycling, a handful are on the injury table, while the rest seem to be running some kind of office sweepstake as to who can come of his bike the most or have the chestiest of infections.

What's happened to Sky's fabled marginal gains? By crashing with the frequency of Michael Rasmussen in a decisive Tour de France individual time trial, Thomas et al have only succeeded in helping their rivals gain margins.

And what of all these mysterious illnesses? Porte's been pulled from his big target of the season, the Giro, because of illness; Froome's pulled out of Tirreno-Adriatico, and now Liege, because of illness. Wiggins quit the Giro because of illness last year, then missed the Tour and numerous one-day races he was scheduled to appear in this season.

Perhaps if the team doctors and PR people didn't define a borderline-dangerous body fat of 4% as being "ripped" then their riders wouldn't be so susceptible to colds, the flu and other seasonal maladies.

And if Sky's training and methods are so superior to those of other teams, why are riders like Boasson Hagen stagnating more than the Hampstead Bathing Ponds of a hot summer, while former team-mates like Simon Gerrans leaving the Best Team In The World to win monuments elsewhere?

Meanwhile, in Turkey...

Former Sky rider Mark Cavendish has sprinted to back-to-back wins in the Presidential Tour. How the tide has turned...

Didn't Cav - who last week announced he will not ride the Giro d'Italia next month - once say of his Turkey-gobbling rival Andre Greipel back in 2010: "If I wanted to get sh** wins then I'd race sh** small races"?

Hardly a classic spring season

Some people are of the opinion that if a rider of Gerrans' calibre is in the mix in the business end of a monument then it's a sign that it hasn't been a great race.

That may be being a little harsh on a rider who has now notched stage wins in all three Grand Tours as well as numerous national championships on top of his Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege titles.

What Gerrans has achieved on two wheels is irrefutably exceptional. But you can hardly call the Australian a great entertainer.

Don't get Saddles wrong: Gerro's wins are brilliant accomplishments and worthy of much applause and respect. But they usually come at the end of a race where Gerrans has been noticeable by his absence.

Being able to ride incognito for 95% of a race before springing up with the goods is perhaps a sign that the peloton is riding more conservatively, the main favourites not prepared to gamble with early attacks.

This spring we saw a different winner for each of the major classics, and besides a breathtaking Tour of Flanders and an enthralling Paris-Roubaix, it was hardly vintage stuff.

Even what was shaping up to be the most exciting Roubaix finale in years - as 10 of the favourites rampaged towards the velodrome in one charged group - was ultimately rather anti-climatic once Niki Terpstra, the spoilsport, pulled off a nevertheless superb solo attack.

In Belgium on Sunday, the return of the Forges and Faucons climbs was meant to give the 100th edition of La Doyenne a glossy veneer. Instead, none of the favourites dared attack until the dying moments of the race - by which time most of Gerrans' countrymen had given up and gone to bed (those lucky enough still to be awake would have found Gerrans's win about as much help for their late bid to get some shut-eye as a double espresso).

Such a scenario left the attacking French riders from Europcar and Ag2R-La Mondiale lamenting the current climate, with a demoralised Romain Bardet in particular claiming that "cycling like that is very sad".

Less risk-taking and a cleaner peloton clearly results in a more controlled race. Funnily enough, perhaps the only way of increasing the spectacle is by making the routes easier, not harder.

It would be harsh, however, to dismiss Gerrans as merely the kind of anodyne winner who prospers in such an era of mediocrity. Besides his final kick, Gerrans's best weapon is the very invisibility which conceals him for such long swathes of the race.

The Australian is as cunning as he's strong and as tactical as he is tenacious, suggesting that while he turns 34 next month, he could still add another monument to his palmares yet.

Meanwhile, swashbuckling stars like Peter Sagan and Michal Kwiatkowski - a decade Gerrans' junior - are still searching for their maiden monument wins. Perhaps they should take a leaf from the Australian's book...

Blazin' Saddles - on Twitter @saddleblaze

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